Teaching Children with Special Needs
‘People with disabilities represent one of the world’s largest untapped talent pools and we need to create the inclusive workplace that nurtures this talent.’
- Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft
Teachers who work with special needs students understand that parents of children with learning disabilities find it difficult to accept that their child is "different." This is currently known as 'neurodivergent' or 'neurodiversity,' a term coined in 1998 by Judy Singer, a sociologist who, along with Harvey Blume, a journalist, helped popularise the concept.
In a non-pathological perspective, neurodiversity refers to the variance in the human brain regarding sociability, learning, attention, mood, and other mental activities. Only 3% of people consider neurodiversity, sometimes known as 'Dyslexia,' to be anything other than a negative. However, there are many amazing personalities and influencers around us that meet this profile of neurodiverse people, including Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, and Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft.
In contemporary society, scholastic challenges of children identified with SLD (Specific Learning Disability) are frequently labelled or stigmatised. The truth is that SLD children's brains are just wired differently.
SLD and neurodiversity are umbrella categories for learning difficulties. Because our educational system is so preoccupied with uniformity, all of the creativity that these neurodiverse kids have is simply schooled out of them.
There are several fundamental flaws in the way we teach or expect students to learn, such as prioritising knowledge over learning and theory over application. For neurodiverse youngsters, this is an undesirable environment. Learning and teaching can become more inclusive and less intimidating for children to discover and thrive by utilising Assistive Technology (AT).
During his recent TedX session, Sir Ken Robinson, an international education expert, highlighted some key statistics. When children begin school, he claims that 97 percent of them are genius-level lateral thinkers and very creative. By the time children leave primary school, this has dropped to 43%, meaning that all of their originality has been sucked out of them. As a result, we are allowing all of these great youngsters dyslexic or not to lose their creativity.
Timely interventions are imperative
1. Intervention must be preceded by comprehensive identification methods to understand neurodiverse children in their early years. There are many ways of diagnostics without a lab test or imaging
2. A one-size fits all approach will not apply to an intervention plan because problem areas differ for each child. Recognising the preferred learning style of a child will help accelerate their overall growth. Some children are visual learners, some auditory, while some are kinaesthetic learners. Keeping in mind each child’s unique demands, an Individualised Education Plan (IEP) ought to be conceived with short-term and long-term goals.
Special Education teacher performs these important roles:
Assess students' skills and determine their educational needs.
Adapt general lessons to meet students' needs.
Develop Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for each student.
Plan activities that are specific to each student's abilities.
Today, technology is a boon and it is available. Assistive Tools (AT) enhance children’s reading, writing, and Mathematics skills.
Examples of AT include ‘TextHelp - Read&Write’, ‘EquatIO’, and Immersive reader. Game-based learning (Gamification) is also a medium to learn in a fun and joyful way regardless of a child’s learning style.
An inclusive environment is paramount in efforts toward change. Understanding the challenges of kids who are neurodiverse and taking the onus to lead this change is the only way to build an empathetic community.
(The author is a Special Educator)